Illegal traffic in heroin, cocaine and painkiller pills has been hit hard by a series of federal indictments Tuesday in Wheeling, to judge by information from U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld.
As we have reported, a federal grand jury in Wheeling indicted 29 people on charges including racketeering and distribution of illegal drugs. Twenty-six of them are local residents. If they are convicted, a major avenue of illegal drug trafficking will be shut down.
Law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation and arrests, along with Ihlenfeld and those in his office, deserve enormous credit for the swift, decisive action in the case. According to information from the U.S. attorney's office, crimes committed by the defendants began in September and December of last year. Gathering enough evidence to bring indictments in that space of time was excellent police and prosecutorial work.
What is particularly striking about the indictments is that just three of the 29 people accused are from outside our area. Twenty are from Wheeling, two are from Triadelphia and others reside in Bellaire, Bridgeport, Martins Ferry and Moundsville.
Twenty-five of those indicted are accused of being part of a conspiracy, meaning they allegedly were involved in a major drug distribution ring. That ring obtained its drugs from Columbus, Detroit and Baltimore, according to Ihlenfeld's office.
Other indictments refer to heroin obtained from Pennsylvania and painkiller pills obtained from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Again, if convictions are obtained, the tap will be closed on what appears to have been a large pipeline carrying illegal drugs into our area. Let's hope some of those charged are willing to divulge names of their out-of-town - or local - suppliers.
Shutting down a single ring of criminals, even one this large, is not a solution to the illegal drug crisis in our area, however. Ihlenfeld and area law enforcement agencies are well aware that someone will step forward to fill the vacuum created by this week's indictments.
So, while this represents a gratifying, important victory, it isn't the end of the war. Those responsible have earned the heartfelt thanks of area residents -along with a plea to keep up the excellent work.